The Democrats’ surprisingly complicated 2016 Senate problem.

Interesting list of potential Democratic retirements from the Hill, here:

  • Barbara Boxer, 74
  • Joe Manchin, 67
  • Patrick Leahy, 74
  • Barbara Mikulski, 78
  • Harry Reid, 74

Manchin’s on the list because he’s doing all the things that Senators who are planning to run for Governor do: to wit, talking about how much he hates Washington DC, and letting the state party apparatus dip their beaks into his fundraising war chest.  Boxer is… tired, I think.  Also, not raising money. Of the other three: Leahy is actually younger than I thought he was; he’s probably staying.  Reid has two years of pain ahead of him.  Mikulski… Barbara Mikulski would be 80 in 2016.  That’s old for a reelection campaign.

This is all relevant because – assuming a 54-46 GOP/Dem Senate – retirements are going to be exceedingly important in 2016. The current ratio of Republican seats being defended to Democratic ones – 24 to 10 – would be potentially bad enough; complicating it is that of the five other Democratic Senators running, only Michael Bennet of Colorado is considered to be seriously at risk.  Patty Murray of Washington State is a possible sleeper, because hope springs eternal.

On the other hand, looking at the other side things aren’t quite as bad for the GOP as all those breathless articles were insisting before the election. Assuming nobody retires from the Senate to run for Governor or President (big assumption, and we’ll discuss that in a minute), and using Murray as a yardstick, the three most at-risk Republican Senators this cycle would be Mark Kirk of Illinois, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Kirk keeps his job, if he wants it.  Toomey and Johnson both benefit from having little in the way of credible opposition*.  Easy to see all three keeping their seats, frankly. As for Lisa Murkowski… she had unique circumstances in 2010, which are unlikely to be repeated.

So strategic Republican retirements are going to be key to any Democratic strategy.  If Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John McCain of Arizona retire and Democrats flip those seats (with who?) and if David Vitter of Louisiana drops out to win the governorship and Democrats flip that seat (with who?) and if Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio decide to give up their seats to run for President and the Democrats flip those seats (with WHO?)… look, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ there.  The Democratic party strategy for 2016 is starting to look like one of those elaborate chess or pool strategies where you set up everything so that each move plays into the next, which sets you up for an eventual commanding endgame where your forces are perfectly positioned for victory.  Pundits love this stuff, honestly.  Even mustang pundits like myself.

The problem?  This isn’t actually a chess or pool game.  A better metaphor would be one where the other guy has a club, with a nail in it.  And he also has a strategy, which is to go up and whale on things until they break – something that neither chess pieces nor pool balls can really block.  He also has what will be a 54/46 margin in the Senate, so he can afford the virtues of simplicity.  I know that I’m starting to mangle the metaphor here, so let me be more straightforward about it: the Democrats will not retake the Senate if they rely on an elaborate strategy of everything going right for them at once. For one thing: as the previous paragraph shows, they’re starting to hit the problem of drying up candidate pools, and ain’t that an absolute shame**.

None of this is a guarantee that we will keep the Senate in 2016.  But it is relevant subtext to any decision that the Democrats listed at the top of this post will have about running again for office.  Even the candidates who are reasonably certain that they can retire and have a Democrat replace them are still going to end up costing the Democratic party precious election funding (it costs more to fill an open seat than it does to cruise to reelection); and if Manchin and Reid quit – coupled with Bennet being in real trouble – then the odds of the GOP keeping the Senate, and possibly even increasing their margin, go way up.

And, of course, then there’s 2018.  Because, hey, why not think about all this stuff ridiculously far in advance?

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*It’s a measure of how bad things are for Wisconsin Democrats that Johnson’s presumed opponent is always Russ Feingold, who has frankly disappeared off of the face of the Earth since he lost in 2010.

**Actually: no.  No, it is not.  It’s what happens when you base your national strategy on the stubbornly parochial attitudes of SoCal, the NorthEast gentry elite, and the Beltway: everybody outside of those areas ends up not measuring up to your Procrustean program.

16 thoughts on “The Democrats’ surprisingly complicated 2016 Senate problem.”

  1. Politics can be loosely modeled by one of those vibrating table football games. Complex strategy is pointless, outside events (such as a stiff wind pushing a team downfield) are huge, and sometimes the ball carrier just spins in a circle.

    1. And in this case, the Democrats are trying to play Hearthstone. They have a TRULY EPIC combo all set up, but it depends on the GOP being morons and not sapping their minions before they get them all deployed for said EPIC COMBO.

    2. I really think we are looking at this too early. I don’t think a lot of these people are planning on retiring (could be wrong).

      I actually want Harry Reid to be defeated in an election, outright. I think that would cause more disarray among Democrats, than if he were to retire.

    1. He’s a peach. We sure he’s not on the Republican party’s payroll? He’s won us 3 elections so far…

    2. I just started peeling an orange when this tab loaded. (Clementine actually, but it’s as orange as Charlie)

      1. I’m not religious, so IDK, but isn’t God supposed to be infinite in love and mercy and stuff?

          1. So .. your infinite deity doesn’t have the ability to multi-task any better than you?
            No offense to you or your religion, Mr. Lane, but that’s one hell of an achilles heel …

  2. Unless Kirk decides to retire “for health reasons” (which .. who could blame the guy, really ..) he’ll be “the Senator from Illinois” as long as he wants.
    Illinois seems to like having one Senator from each party .. I suspect it’s so the Combine can work both sides of the aisle, although .. they seem to be rather off their game, given the soggy mess that is the Illinois budget…
    Guess they miss Rostenkowski and Hastert, huh?

  3. from that article, I don’t think Kentucky or New Hampshire are in play, but I’d add Arizona and possibly Iowa (if Grassley retires or if someone tries to primary him and bloodies him up and/or decides to pout and sit it out), so I see about 8 seats with some level or risk:

    Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin

    for Arizona see what I said about Grassley in Iowa, only moreso.

    I’d heard reports of Burr in North Carolina having some favorability problems, but he may have recovered from that (?), and he did win his last election pretty comfortably. But N.C. is getting closer, so I think it will still need to be vigorously defended.

    for Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, these are going to be close, especially in a presidential election year. the bloom seems to be off the rose a bit for Rubio nationally, but I assume he’s still popular in Florida. WI is likely to be a nailbiter win or lose, but I actually have a bit more faith in Ron Johnson pulling it out than Toomey or even Portman.

    why are we so sure Kirk would be safe? he only won by 2 points, and this is Illinois we’re talking about, in a presidential election year. that would be the seat I’m most worried about, even if he runs.

    right now I’m feeling more confident about keeping the senate in 2016 than I was leading up to this year’s elections, though. Manchin (or McCaskill?) potentially retiring helps that a lot, though those might not actually be pickup opportunities until 2018 depending on timing. prior to those possibilities, Nevada and *maybe* Colorado were the only realistic shots I saw at pickups. but a Democrat presidential candidate could have coattails in blue/purple states even if they lose nationally.

  4. I’m not sure Joe Manchin is going to retire (if he is, I wish him the best) and considering he’s been about the only democrat in the Senate that has demonstrated at least some sanity (he’s one of the few Democrats in the Senate that have ripped Obama’s executive amnesty overreach), I’m not entirely sure he should be a priority for Republicans to go after (I also don’t think he’s going to be all that vulnerable outside of the Democrat primary, since he isn’t exactly toeing the party line (even when he wasn’t up for re-election).

    From what I’ve heard there is speculation that Manchin is going to be a thorn in the side of Reid at the very least, and some speculation that he may switch parties.

    A much higher priority in my book (barring Manchin retiring, in which case I think the seat would be easy to pick up) would be to replace Harry Reid with a Republican in 2016. I also wish we could have knocked out Franken this last election. While I like the fact we’ve regained control of the Senate, I really wish we’d knocked out more of the far-left kooks.

    1. Eh, there is an upside to the Dem caucus overall sliding further left .. it makes it that much harder to elect Dems in purple States because “those guys are just kooky!” ..

      1. Joe Manchin supporting Republican bills that Obama opposes would undermine the left-wing talking heads, because it would be “bipartisan,” since a democrat would be supporting it.

        Look I understand the argument you are bringing up, however the mainstream media doesn’t call out left wing kooks at all. Furthermore, a one-party system has an alarming tendency to lead to tyranny.

        In any event, in all seriousness I think that getting some of the left-wing kooks kicked out of office would tamp down all the political brawls in Washington (at least on the congressional level), and would help our chances of keeping the White House (if we win in 2016), or help us win in 2020.

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